Military, Pre-WW1

The Motor Scout is the First “Armored” Car

It may look hilarious, but this is actually the grandfather of all AFVs that have ever been created. The Motor Scout is a very humble machine, but for its day it was on the cutting edge.

Its designer, merged two brand new pieces of technology; the automobile, and the machinegun, in a forward thinking vehicle that provided mobile and high speed firepower.



The late 19th century was a period of rapid technological advancements, with significant progress in automotive technology.

The world’s first automobile had been unveiled in 1886, beginning a new era of human travel that we still rely on today. Back then, it wasn’t clear what direction this new technology was heading, or what it would even be used for. They were quite literally writing the rule book as they went.

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However, as is typical with any new technology, it didn’t take long for someone to see its military value.

Frederick Richard Simms, an influential figure in the automotive industry and a visionary in motorized transport, recognized the potential of combining armor with motor vehicles for military applications.

Frederick Richard Simms.
Frederick Richard Simms.

In 1898, amid growing international tensions and the race for technological superiority, Simms developed the Motor Scout as a response to the need for mobile, protected firepower on the battlefield.

Remember, this is just a decade after the first automobile. The aircraft had not yet flown, and the machine gun had only recently been invented. This was a period where the concept of self-propelled, mobile firepower was barely an idea.

And, in many cases, it wouldn’t have even been possible. Cars back then were fragile, primitive contraptions that were hardly up for carrying a few people, let alone weapons in combat.

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So when Simms looked to pairing the automobile with the machine gun in 1898, he really was at the cutting edge, tactically and technologically. This isn’t to say he was the only person on Earth with the idea, but he was certainly one of the first.


His vehicle of choice to carry a gun was an 1898 quadricycle. This is often said to have been a De Dion-Bouton model, but according to David Fletcher, it is actually a Beeston Motor design. This was new itself.

The engine is likely from De Dion-Bouton, and is probably the source of confusion.

De Dion-Bouton was a French manufacturer of early automobiles, known for their reliable engines at a time when most cars lacked such a thing. Their reliability led to other brands purchasing and using their engines in their own cars.

They helped many manufacturers, including Renault, establish themselves.

1898 Beeston Motor Quadricycle.
1898 Beeston Motor Quadricycle the basis of Simms’ design.

Simms’ quadricycle had a mighty 1.5 horsepower single cylinder engine at the rear of the chassis. Steering was achieved via two handlebars, like a bicycle.

In the passenger’s usual place was a single Maxim machine gun, which was shielded by a small armor plate.

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This configuration provided a mobile platform for the machine gun, enabling it to be moved quickly across the battlefield, a very new concept at the time.

The Maxim was cutting edge for 1898, having only been created in 1884. The Maxim was the first self-powered machine gun in history, and is arguably one of the most revolutionary pieces of military technology.

Motor Scout with Simms.
The Motor Scout only had room for one person.

In front of the gun, within arm’s reach of the driver, was an additional one thousand rounds of ammunition.

However, the vehicle’s open design left the operator partially exposed, and its mobility was limited by the technology of the time, including poor road infrastructure and the vehicle’s relatively slow speed.

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A fuel tank carried enough fuel for 120 miles of driving. In the center of the Motor Scout, between the tubular frame, is the fuel tank.

Fuel quantity could be increased with another fuel tank – although I doubt anyone drove 120 miles in this and asked for more.

An armor plate was added in front of the gun to protect the operator from small arms fire and shrapnel, a basic but critical requirement for operating in combat zones.

In the most famous image of the Motor Scout, Simms can be seen in the driver’s seat while gripping the machine gun. While this was certainly possible, in reality Simms expected the driver to dismount before firing the gun.

Motor Scout car.
Simms’ 1899 Motor Scout.

What Happened to the Motor Scout?

As cutting edge as it was at the time, the Motor Scout did not become a serving vehicle. Its development came at a time when the concepts of armored warfare and motorized infantry were still in their infancy.

Military doctrines of the era did not fully recognize the potential of such vehicles enough to capitalise on them immediately.

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However, the Motor Scout served as a valuable proof of concept, demonstrating the feasibility and potential advantages of motorized, armored vehicles in combat situations.

Interestingly though, it seems some at the time did recognise the Motor Scout as a potentially game changing machine. One newspaper article from 1899 states:

Motor Scout Simms demonstration.
Simms shows off how to operate the machine gun.

The possibilities of the “Motor Scout” from a military point of view are very great, and its usefulness, in intelligent hands, to any force fighting in a civilised country, is almost incalculable.

It wasn’t the only armored car of the century though, as around the same time, another early armored car came onto the scene. This was the the Davidson-Duryea Light 3-Wheeled Car, armed with an M1895 Colt–Browning machine gun and protected by a larger shield.

Small Car, Big Legacy

While the Motor Scout itself did not see use, its development marked a significant milestone in military technology. It may look comical to us now, 125 years in the future, but back then this was completely unpaved ground.

A self-propelled machine gun was simply revolutionary, and was essentially the starting point for all armored vehicles, including cars and tanks, that came after it.

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Following on from the Motor Scout, Simms created another vehicle, the Motor War Car.

This was a much more susbstantial vehicle, and although it still looks very odd, it has many of the staple features of armored cars that we know today.

Davidson-Duryea Light 3-Wheeled Car.
The Davidson-Duryea Light 3-Wheeled Car was designed around the same time as Simms’ Motor Scout.

It was based on an actual car chassis, not quadricycle, and it was armored all around. Power came from a 14 hp Daimler engine, and on top two Maxim machine guns served as the armament.

Much of the Motor War Car’s design elements suggest it was optimised for use in crowd control situations, perhaps in British colonial territories.

At the front, the armor plating was shaped like and upside-down boat hull, which was meant to help the vehicle push through crowds. The top rim of the armor plate was fitted with rollers to make it hard to climb on, and – the most terrifying of all – the lower rim could be sharpened and electrified, to shock or cut anyone stood near the vehicle.

Motor War Car.
Simms Motor War Carwas armored all around, and seems to have been designed for crowd control.

So while Simms started with the humble War Scout, he was not messing around on his next venture!

Simms’ story is not limited to these two strange vehicles though. Most of his career was spent designing and manufacturing automobile components, and was a major pioneer in the industry. For example, Simms was the inventor of the impact-absorbing car bumper.

Arguably his most important achievement was his development of magnetos. Simms and Robert Bosch created the Simms-Bosch ignition magneto, and as a result, Simms became one of the UK’s leading suppliers of magnetos to the military through both the First and Second World War.

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He passed away in 1944 at the age of 80, but his company remained in operation into the late 1960s, and eventually shut down in the 1990s.